Renting a property with Airbnb happens entirely online. One of the keys to the company's success is its well-designed, eye-catching Web site. In the early days, the founders visited each of the New York rental properties personally to take good photos and write up colorful descriptions [source: Thompson]. That insistence on quality continues in Airbnb's streamlined and user-friendly online experience.
The first step in renting a property with Airbnb is to browse the thousands of listings on the site. If you know exactly where you want to stay, type in the city and neighborhood name along with your travel dates. If you only know the city you want to visit, let Airbnb be your neighborhood guide. There are detailed neighborhood guides for 21 of its most popular destinations from Tokyo to Miami to Mexico City. Within each neighborhood, Airbnb displays some of the top listings along with their nightly rates.
If you use the Airbnb search tool, listings are automatically displayed from least to most expensive. You can use a number of filters to customize your search results by price range, type of property (entire place, private room or shared room), and even by amenities like free WiFi, a kitchen or "kid friendly." Airbnb also displays search results geographically on a map. This is helpful if you want a place near the beach or close to downtown shopping districts.
Click on each listing to read detailed descriptions of the property and view photos. Scroll down to read reviews from previous guests and see how many "stars" the property and host have received in categories like cleanliness, location and communication. Pay careful attention to the host's cancellation policy and any extra charges like security deposits and cleaning fees. Also note the host's "house rules" about quiet hours and other personal preferences.
When you find a place that you like, click the blue "Request to Book" button. That allows you to send a message directly to the host requesting a reservation for your selected travel dates. To send the message, you must first sign in to Airbnb using Facebook or Google+, or create an Airbnb account.
Once the host accepts your reservation, you pay in full by credit card and your host sends a message with the exact address and other check-in information. Note that Airbnb charges between 6 and 12 percent on top of your nightly rate to cover its own fees. Airbnb holds on to your money until 24 hours after your arrival to make sure that the accommodations are acceptable. After your stay, post your own review of the property and host on Airbnb.
Now let's look at the Airbnb experience from the host's perspective.